ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Solid pitching, stellar defence and disciplined offence that produced just enough runs to win again was a successful combination for the Rays again.
“It’s just a formula for success in baseball when you do those different things,” manager Joe Maddon said after the Tampa Bay Rays won their season-best seventh straight game on Wednesday night, beating the struggling Minnesota Twins 4-3 on Ben Zobrist’s RBI single with two outs in the 13th inning.
“That’s pretty basic, good stuff that everybody attempts to achieve,” Maddon added. “But that’s why we’re winning as many games as we have.”
Zobrist lined a 1-2 pitch from Ryan Pressly (2-1) into the gap in right-centre field, ending a 4-hour, 47-minute game that featured 35 strikeouts — 19 for Rays pitchers.
Tampa Bay climbed to a season-best 12 games over .500. The second-place Rays also improved to 9-1 during a stretch of 14 consecutive games against the Twins, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros — teams with the three worst records in the American League.
The Twins have has lost 10 of 11, including four straight. They tied a franchise record by fanning 19 times for the first time since 1968.
“A long night,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “A lot of pitches thrown by both teams. A lot of missed opportunities.”
Cesar Ramos (2-2) got two outs, escaping a jam with runners at first and third in the 13th to get the win.
Yunel Escobar singled with one out in the 13th and took second with two outs on Pressly’s errant pickoff throw. After Luke Scott walked on a full count, Zobrist singled.
“I’ve had some timely hits, but it’s been up and down the lineup,” Zobrist said. “You think about the hits Luke Scott had today and the hits he’s had lately, and you can’t say enough tonight about our bullpen, shutting it down with men in scoring position and getting a lot of big strikeouts.”
Pedro Florimon hit a two-run, third-inning homer and Clete Thomas had a RBI single in the fifth to give the Twins a 3-1 lead against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson.
Kelly Johnson’s two-run homer off Minnesota starter Kevin Correia made it 3-all in the sixth.
The game ended just before midnight, just over 12 hours before the teams wrap up a four-game series Thursday afternoon.
“When you win a game like that, there’s a residual energy. When you don’t win a game like that, you have to go looking for that energy,” Maddon said. “It doesn’t mean you win the next day, but it definitely makes it easier to walk in the door.”
The Twins wasted opportunities to take the lead in the ninth and 11th. They failed to take advantage of a pair of singles to begin the ninth against closer Fernando Rodney, and let reliever Jamey Wright off the hook when Oswaldo Arcia grounded out to strand runners at second and third base in the 11th.
Arcia also couldn’t get the potential go-ahead run home in the 13th, striking out after Joe Mauer singled and moved to third on Ryan Doumit’s two-out single off Ramos.
“He was just swinging out of the zone, going a little crazy there. A young kid trying to do too much,” Gardenhire said of the 22-year-old Arcia’s struggles. “Trying to hit an eight-run homer. … All we need is one guy in, and he’s swinging like a mad man. … That’s what happens with kids. You’ve got to live with it.”
Tampa Bay nearly won it in the 10th. Wil Myers singled with two outs, and running on a 3-2 pitch would have scored easily from first base on Johnson’s line drive that Twins centre fielder Aaron Hicks leaped to catch before crashing into the wall.
Hellickson had won four consecutive starts, matching the longest streak of his career, before Wednesday night. The 26-year-old right-hander allowed three runs, six hits and struck out eight in six innings.
Correia limited the Rays to three singles and Escobar’s second-inning sacrifice fly until James Loney singled to open the sixth. Johnson, in the lineup because of his history of success against the Minnesota starter, followed with his fifth home run in 25 career at-bats against Correia.
NOTES: Evan Longoria went 1 for 4 with an infield single, two walks and a pair of strikeouts. The Tampa Bay star is 6 for 44 with no extra-base hits over his last 14 games — the longest extra-base hit drought of his career. … Johnson went 2 for 3 against Correia and is 9 for 25 lifetime against the right-hander. … Florimon’s homer was his first since June 9 at Washington. … Since being promoted from Triple-A Durham for the second time this season on June 1, Rays LHP Alex Torres leads all American League relievers who’ve worked a minimum of 15 innings with an 0.42 ERA. He’s allowed one earned run in last 21 2-3 innings, while limiting opposing hitters to an .085 batting average. … Tampa Bay RHP Alex Cobb, out since being hit in the right ear by a line drive on June 15, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday. … Minnesota 1B Justin Morneau singled in the ninth for his 1,276th career hit, tying Gary Gaetti for seventh on the Twins’ all-time list.